China Accused by U.S., Allies of Massive State-Sponsored Hacking Campaign

Rod Rosenstein

Zhu Hua and Zhang Shilong, described by officials as members of a Chinese cyber-espionage group known as APT-10 and working for China's main intelligence service, hacked computers in at least a dozen countries, giving Chinese intelligence access to confidential business information, Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said.

Companies who were hacked were not named, but 45 victims in the United States included key government agencies - the NASA Goddard Space Center and Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the US Navy, where the personal information of more than 100,000 personnel was stolen.

The alleged hackers, one of whom is nicknamed "Godkiller", are accused of breaching computer networks beginning as early as 2006 in a range of industries, including aviation and space, finance, biotechnology oil and gas, satellites and pharmaceuticals.

The FBI said Zhu and Zhang are believed to be in China but it will seek their arrest if they ever leave the country.

The charges were filed as a larger campaign by the U.S.to curb efforts by the Chinese to steal American trade secrets.

In an operation coordinated with USA allies in Europe and Asia, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the inditement of the duo aimed to rebuff "China's economic aggression".

The British government also accused China of conducting a "widespread and significant" campaign of cyber espionage against the United Kingdom and its allies.

The global hacking campaign involved using malware to target MSPs - managed service providers - which are used to store commercial and proprietary data.

"The U.K. government has made the judgement that the Chinese ministry of state security was responsible", it said.

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"You can see the initial intrusion but it becomes harder to track secondary and tertiary intrusions, so there is an element about this technically which we will not know". "APEC economies agreed they should not conduct or support [Information and Communications Technology] ICT-enabled theft of intellectual property or other confidential business information, for commercial advantage".

Mr Rosenstein said the threats posed by the hacking operation, which dates back to 2006, have never been more severe or more pervasive and are part of China's ultimate goal to replace the United States as the world's leading superpower.

The hackers are part of a group called APT10 that attacked managed IT service providers to obtain intellectual property and trade secrets from across the world.

"There is some co-operation under the framework of Interpol, but if the Chinese government doesn't agree with the US charges, there is no way to extradite the accused", said Li Fangping, a Beijing-based criminal lawyer.

The Chinese nationals charged have been identified as Zhu Hua and Zhang Jianguo.

Shortly after the Justice Department's announcement, the British Foreign Office released a statement similarly accusing APT10 of a "malicious cyber campaign".

The ministry emphasized that the Chinese government had never been engaged in theft of commercial data.

After the charges imposed by the USA, it drew Beijing's attention accusing Washington of "fabricating facts".

US complaints of cyberespionage and other means of IP theft (including forced technology transfers as a condition to enter the Chinese market) are at the core of the ongoing trade dispute with China. They will not face charges unless they travel, or are extradited to, the US. Instead, the indictment is meant to send a message to China about how seriously the United States takes such hacking cases.

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